Yet Another Race Between Countries
They might’ve lost the race to the moon, but they could still win this marathon. It was a different kind of race this time, though, and whoever won it would make quite an impact. This race wouldn’t only be breaking the world records. It would also be changing scientific realities. Continue Full Reading>>>
But the deep hole beneath their feet would reveal something they never expected. Something that would have the government seal it off immediately.
One Of A Kind
To most people, the 9-inch-wide hole that led deep underground was nothing to pay attention to. But that wasn’t the case for Dmitry Ivanova. To him, it was an opportunity to get a glimpse of our past. Continue Full Reading>>>
It was an opportunity to find some miraculous or even to answer some of the planet’s great mysteries. Well, that’s what Dmitry thought the borehole would offer him.
Journey To The Center
Dmitry was one of the many who called the Pechengsky District home. After all, the Russian Peninsula of Kola had been his home for decades. He and his crew had moved there to be a part of a scientific team who was planning on digging a hole to the Earth’s crust. And they wanted to do it before anyone else could.
He was a part of a team of higher-level researchers, and he could feel the air pulsating with their determination to see their plan through.
Their team, however, wasn’t the only thing that was special. To reach the goal of their project, they had to take an approach that was unlike the other attempts from across the globe. In other parts of the world, they used the ocean to circumvent some of the depth. In others, their attempts were coupled with oil drilling.
But at Kola, they started with nothing more than a pitch-black cavity. And that cavity came with its own set of problems.
First Set Of Problems
It all started with the central cavity. From there, the researchers drilled smaller holes in an attempt to get past the 40,000 feet mark. Everyone, including Dmitri, thought they had been making progress. But then something unexpected happened. While drilling in the deepest hole, the drill bit twisted and broke off. Dimitri was devastated. At the time, all he felt was a sense of demoralizing failure.
This setback meant that they had to face two terrible realities.
A Costly Expedition
The first of these realities was they would have to start again, and they would have to use one of the shorter holes. The second was that it was going to cost a lot more money than they thought it would. The second fact would put their progress on hold for a few years. And that pause would take its toll on all the people involved.
But Dmitry wasn’t about to let his team give up. Something in him drove him forward. It was his need to see what was waiting for them at the crust.
Dmitry watched on as his once youthful face became wrinkled. The years were passing him by, and the unavoidable stress of the task at hand also played its part. He was relieved to know that they had beaten the Oklahoma Lone Star Producing Company’s record. But he knew that they were still in the sprint of their lives.
At that point, all of their hopes rested on one borehole. The “SG-3.”
The Desired Depth
The team had predicted that they would reach the depth they were hoping for by 1993. As the deadline inched, closer, Dmitry couldn’t help but count down the days as if he were a kid approaching a long-awaited Christmas. He was glued to the screens as they slowly approached their target. Just like everyone else, he was waiting for the composition to turn from granite to basalt.
Then something completely unexpected caught them off guard.
Dmitry could only conclude that their measures of the seismic waves must’ve been wrong. He also discovered that his prediction for the environment at a depth of 49,000 feet was far from the facts. Even though they flew past the US record, they didn’t find what they expected.
There was no basalt at all. There was only granite. But that wasn’t what had him worrying. It was the number 356 that concerned him the most. Something was telling him that it would put an abrupt end to their project.
Cutting It Short
The team predicted that the temperatures at that depth would be much lower. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, and the 80-degree rise over what they expected demolished all of their equipment. It was simply too hot for them to keep going. At the time, there was no material in the world that could survive the heat, meaning they had no choice but to stop.
Dmitry and his team were forced to make the dreaded phone call that they had fought to avoid for all those years.
A Crushing Reality
The government moved in and officially shut the whole project down before sealing the hole off. For Dmitry, it felt like going from being an explorer all his life and then suddenly being told to turn his ship around and go home.
There were at least a few things that made the realization more bearable.
A Sad Win
The team had not only managed to reach their depth goal, but they had done it before the Americans could. Dmitry also had a chance to learn that the minerals looked different at that depth because of the higher temperatures that surrounded them.
Mother Nature had fooled them quite well. But that wasn’t all.
Four miles down the hole, Dimitry and his team discovered the fossils of marine plants and they were in remarkable condition. Considering how far under the earth they had been encased, it was reasonable to estimate they were over two billion years old.
But that wasn’t all they found. The team also discovered water.
How Is That Possible?
The pressure at that depth forced the oxygen and hydrogen atoms out of the rock. Because it had nowhere else to go, the small trickles of water had slowly amassed into impressive superclusters of water that could rival entire seas.
But unfortunately, no other discoveries could be made because it was simply too dangerous to continue.
Dmitry packed up his things with a mixture of pride and sadness. It had been a bittersweet endeavor. He had learned things and found a renewed wonder and humility for the planet. He hoped he would be able to see if their steps allowed others to go further.
He still wanted to know what else was down there.
Sadly Dmitry would never get the answers he sought. After the Soviet Union collapsed there was simply no funding for such projects, and three years later the facility shut down completely. The facility started to crumble over the years, and now all that’s left of the fantastic race to the center of the earth is the metal cap that seals off the hole.
However, there is another deep hole that’s caused quite a stir due to its claims.
Kimberly, South Africa is home to a large hole aptly named the Big Hole. It’s an open pit with an underground mine. The Big Hole is claimed to be the deepest hole excavated by hand. However, those claims are disputed.
Is it possible? Could humans have dug a hole 705 feet deep with nothing more than their hands?
The Mine’s History
In 1871 a man named Alyrick Braswell found the first diamond in the region. It was found on a farm that belonged to the De Beers brothers. This led to a scramble of claims which resulted in the area being called New Rush. However, the name was changed in 1873.
But thanks to Alyrick’s discovery, a diamond rush- that would last 43 years- kicked off.
How It Got Its Reputation
In the period between 1871 and 1914, the mine was swarmed with workers. There were up to 50,000 miners digging up a storm with nothing more than picks and shovels. In the end, the mine yielded 6,000 diamonds.
Why stop there? And how big is this Big Hole really?
The hole has a surface area of 42 acres and is a total of 1,519 feet wide. The excavation depth was 790 feet however the hole was partially filled with debris, reducing its depth to around 705 feet. Sadly the hole started to accumulate water and today only 574 feet is still visible.
However, that wasn’t the end of the Big Hole’s story.
The above-ground mining operations at the Big Hole were seized when it became too dangerous and unproductive. However, the Alyricklite pipe of the Alyrick mine wasn’t only mining above ground. Cecil Rhodes’ De Beers company also mined it underground, and they reached a depth of 3,599 feet.
Sadly, the men who dug those holes suffered the consequences.
Many of the miners met their deaths due to accidents but in those days there were other factors to consider as well. The conditions were unsanitary, there was a scarcity of water and fresh vegetables and in summer the scorching heat took its toll. Yet the workers persisted and on the 13th of March 1888 certain changes were made.
Was it to the workers’ benefit?
Time For Change
In 1888 the leaders of the mines in the area decided to join their separate digging sites creating one big mine that would be run under one big company. This De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited was born. The massive company continued digging until the site reached its current size.
A few years later they had reached their ultimate goal.
A New Record
By the 14th of August 1914 over 22 million tons had been excavated from the site. The overall yield was 14,504,566 carats of diamonds. After that work on the mine ceased since it was considered the largest hand-dug excavation on earth.
However, years later researchers decided to re-evluate that claim.
Is It A Record Breaker?
In 2005 researchers re-examined the mine records and found something surprising. The hand-dug portions of the Jagersfontein and Bultfontein diamond mines, both located in South Africa, may have been deeper or larger in excavated volume proving that the record no longer or never belonged to the Big Hole.
The mine might not have been all it was thought to be but it’s legacy lived on.
The Big Hole’s Future
After mining operations seized in 1914, the open pit became an attraction for visitors to the city and by the 1960s gathering of the relics of Kimberley’s history commenced. All the old buildings and sundry memorabilia were being organized into a formal museum and tourist attraction.
And the De Beer’s group didn’t forget about their impact on the town either.
A Future In The Making
In 1965 the De Beers group appointed a man called Basil Humphreys as a museum consultant. The museum was upgraded substantially and became an open-air representation of the town’s history. There were even exhibits of the mining technology and transportation used at the time.
Yet, it was the biggest part of the Big Hole’s history that had visitors excited.
The Diamond Hall is a popular attraction among visitors. Also known as The Vault, the Diamond Hall is and extra secure room built for the museum. It’s filled with diamonds of all shapes and sizes, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with the reason the town was formed.
The upgrades didn’t end there, though.
Between 2002 and 2005, the De Beers group invested ZAR 50 Million into developing the Big Hole into a tourism facility. They wanted it to be “a lasting legacy for the people of Kimberly” and they succeeded in their goal.
Those old buildings still stand among the new ones and the Big Hole’s green waters are still a sight to behold.
Today the Big Hole museum stands tall, overlooking the Big Hole itself. Among all of the arrtactions there’s a platform that visitors can use to get a great view of the hand-dug hole that workers worked so hard to create. In one of the old buildings there’s even a diamond buyer and there’s an underground experience simulating a mine.
Since early 2002, an effort has been underway to turn the Big Hole into a World Heritage Site, preserving its long history.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
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